The image above is a photo of artist Nam June Paik’s video installation “TV Buddha.” It’s always been a favorite of mine for its clever take on the practice of meditation — a Buddha statue “contemplating” a live video image of itself. This picture is one of the photos that we considered for our recent program, “TV and Parables of Our Time,” but it didn’t end up making the final cut.

Choosing images for our programs is one of my favorite parts of this job, but it’s not always easy. The best image usually contains some mix of aesthetic appeal, editorial relevance, and that slippery, hard to pin-down thing we call “sensibility.”

“TV and Parables of Our Time” was no exception. I initially proposed to Trent (SOF’s online editor) using images from the TV shows Krista and Diane Winston discussed (much like our Web site for “A Return to the Mystery”). After talking it over a bit, we decided this conversation deserved a different approach — so it was off to Flickr, Getty, or any other place I might be able to find the right image.


(photo: gianmerizzi/Flickr)


(photos: Sebastien Tixier/Flickr, matratze/Flickr, Wweeggee/Flickr)

I struggled to figure out where to start searching for an image with this program. The most obvious starting point was to start with an image search for “television,” but that seemed a little too easy. I came back to Trent with a set of images (included above), pushing the one you see on top with the young girl facing sideways. Unable to find something directly related to the program (other than the presence of a television), I had mostly gone for images I found visually interesting. Trent’s advice: keep looking.

I find that there’s no sure-fire way to accomplish this task, but it often helps to have more than one set of eyes looking to get it right. It’s real easy to get attached to one element of the program — in this case, the image of a  television — and lose track of the larger message. On my second round of searching, I encountered photos of “TV Buddha” and got excited to have found something I already loved — hoping I might be able to make it work for the show. Talking it over with Trent — someone a little less infatuated with the image’s content — helped me realized that, while it may have been a cool image, it wasn’t the right fit for the program.


(photo: Andrea Volpini/Flickr)


(photos: Moonfall Pix/Flickr, Gianluigi Calcaterra/Flickr, David Boyle/Flickr)

I finally came back with one last set of images (above), which included the photo we ended up using, on top. Not only did I like the image, I also appreciated the quote that the photographer included on the photo’s Flickr page. From the Egyptian screenwriter Mohammed Amer, on the subject of Egyptian musalsalat (TV series): “One of the most important things soap operas have done is encourage the public to condemn terrorism.”

I liked that it kept with one of the themes of the program — the power of televised storytelling to help us cope with contemporary issues — but came from a different cultural perspective: Egyptian television rather than the American-made shows discussed in the program. My one concern was that the image seemed a little grainy, but Trent’s input was that the image quality didn’t make it less compelling.

Oh yeah, and I did manage to sneak Nam June Paik into the Web site. Another image I’d found on the last round of searching included Paik’s large installation “Megatron/Matrix,” which we ended up using for the site’s secondary pages.

(photo: Garrett Miller/Flickr)


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